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U.S. Marines are set to have the first Black 4-star general in their 246-year history

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.S. Senate is expected to make history when it votes to confirm General Michael E. Langley to command U.S. forces in Africa. He'll be the first Black four-star general in the Marine Corps' history. That's 246 years. That milestone is being celebrated but also held up as a sign of how slow the military has been to change - 70 years after U.S. armed forces were officially desegregated. Here's NPR's Quil Lawrence.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Senators on the Armed Services Committee made clear they intend to confirm Langley at his hearing. They asked polite, deferential questions. In classic Marine Corps style, Langley gave direct, concise answers.

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MICHAEL E LANGLEY: The global security environment we're witnessing today is the most challenging I've seen throughout my 37 years. These challenges cannot be solved by military power alone. They require an integration of diplomatic efforts and comprehensive strategies from other allies and partners.

LAWRENCE: Langley is from Shreveport, La., the son of an Air Force master sergeant.

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LANGLEY: My father dedicated 25 years to the defense of our nation, and my stepmother is a retired front-line supervisor at our U.S. post office. Without their support, I would not be here today.

LAWRENCE: Langley has led from the platoon level all the way up to commanding Marine forces in all of Europe and Africa. He's deployed to Somalia and Afghanistan, where he led a team advising Afghan troops in Helmand Province. The Marines saw heavy combat there. He's got graduate degrees from the Army and Navy war colleges. So for some, it's more a question of why it's taken so long.

JEREMY BUTLER: It's great to see him getting this long overdue recognition. It's a great move for the Marine Corps.

LAWRENCE: Jeremy Butler with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America says the military has diversity, just not among the senior officers, which makes it hard to persuade the best and brightest young Americans that the military should be their career.

BUTLER: The other headlines that we're seeing today is how all the services are having an incredibly troubling time meeting their recruiting goals. And if we don't have a military that's reflective of the values that our country is striving to maintain and to achieve, we're going to continue to see a decline in enlistments.

LAWRENCE: The Marine Corps command lags behind even other military branches in diversity. Langley is one of just half a dozen Black Marine generals. He will now be the first four-star.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.